Article contributed by Jenny Finke of Good For You Gluten Free. Jenny is a certified integrative nutrition health coach and a gluten-free blogger. She can be found at GoodForYouGlutenFree.com and on Instagram at @goodforyouglutenfree. Nothing in this article is medical advice. Please consult your doctor before implementing a diet change.
There is a lot of buzz about celiac disease these days – especially as May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. You may be wondering what exactly is celiac disease.
1. Celiac Disease is an Autoimmune Disease, Not an Allergy.
Celiac disease is not a “gluten allergy;” rather it’s an autoimmune disease. Like other autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system becomes confused and attacks its own healthy tissue. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system goes to battle with the healthy tissue surrounding the small intestine. The small intestine is an essential organ for digesting and absorbing food. Someone with celiac disease may, therefore, suffer from malabsorption despite eating an otherwise “normal” diet.
2. The Gluten-Free Diet is the Only Treatment for Celiac Disease.
Celiac disease is the only autoimmune disease in which the trigger (gluten) is known. Individuals with celiac disease who remove gluten from the diet, typically go on to heal their small intestines. While many people with celiac disease are relieved that they can “treat” their disease via diet vs. pharmaceutical pills and procedures, the gluten-free diet can be difficult to follow. Someone with celiac disease cannot eat even a gluten crumb without their bodies launching into attack mode. This restrictive diet makes it challenging to eat out, cook, purchase groceries, and travel.
3. Celiac Disease is More Common Than Most Think.
While current statistics show celiac disease afflicts one in 133 people, which is about three million people or three percent of the U.S. population, many people don’t know they have it. According to the University of Chicago School of Medicine, 97 percent of people with celiac disease have yet to be diagnosed. Furthermore, research from the Colorado Center for Celiac Disease found, in a 20-year study, the incidence of celiac disease in children to be three percent by the age of 15; three times higher than the widely-reported incidence rates of one percent!
4. Celiac Disease Symptoms Go Beyond Tummy Aches.
While a bloated belly or chronic constipation or diarrhea are common symptoms of celiac disease, celiac disease can manifest itself in different ways in different people. Some find celiac disease affects their skin, mental health, growth or thyroid function. Osteoporosis, for example, is a complication of untreated celiac disease. Research suggests the prevalence of osteoporosis or osteopenia in newly diagnosed celiac disease patients may be as high as 75 percent!
5. Celiac Disease Isn’t Just Triggered by Genetics.
While there is a genetic component to celiac disease, genetics alone don’t dictate who gets the disease. Researchers found that 40 percent of the U.S. population carries one of two celiac genes (HLA-DQ2 or DQ8), yet only three percent of those with the celiac genes get diagnosed with celiac disease. In order for the celiac gene(s) to turn on, someone must consume the trigger (gluten), AND they must experience intestinal permeability (leaky gut). This is why so many people get diagnosed with celiac disease later in life and typically after an illness or trauma that contributed to changes in their gut flora.
There is so much more to know about celiac disease. For more information, please visit GoodForYouGlutenFree.com.